It’s taken a long, long time for Sonia Delaunay to be granted her first retrospective in the UK, and indeed she died back in 1979. With that in mind, it’s something of a travesty that it wasn’t until 2015 when the Tate Modern, London, finally did what no one else had the guts to do, and created an ode to the great artists work.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the invigorating colour paintings of Sonia Delaunay have never been given the real credit they deserve is because she was overshadowed by the success of her husband, the highly influential Robert Delaunay, whose theories and paintings cast a spell over the prominent artists of the day, including Paul Klee and Kandinsky. Delaunay, a woman, was pushed into the background, just like her female contemporaries. But that isn’t to say that Sonia Delaunay didn’t trail a blaze across the art world – she did.
Thankfully, we can always rely on the Tate to give a platform to unsung artists. Make no mistake about it, Sonia Delaunay was every inch the artistic genius her husband was. Russian-born, her artistic temperament was a to-die for melting pot that fused together her formalist Russian background with the kind of aesthetic and creative freedom that living in France gave artists.
This meant that her art was unparalleled in its scope, and if you see a Sonia Delaunay painting that you’ve never seen before, you tend to know it’s a Sonia Delaunay painting. Always abstract and always daring to do something different to her contemporaries, Delaunay found a niche early on, and painted highly stylised shapes – often discs – that meshed together like whirlpools, spewing colour back and forth in a controlled setting. Privy to all the latest colour theories that were abounding at the time, Delaunay was able to breathlessly merge together complimentary colours and contrasting shapes to create paintings that are intense and stunning.
Sonia Delaunay outlived her husband by over thirty years, but once Robert died, the light that had flickered so strongly in her life and art began to die. Her palette became muter, darker, and the vibrancy of her peak years wilted. For this reason, it’s best to remember Sonia Delaunay for the exhilarating art she created in the 1920’s and 1930’s, at a time when her mental strength was strong, her visual language at the top of its game, and when her midlife crisis was still some way off. [images via hyperallergic.com]